“I have been searching for a heart of gold”
THE GOLDEN HEART
The project was inspired by an attempt of preserving a specimen permanently in an intact condition but also allows convenient inspection. Initially, it was treated as hand-craft decoration. Three months after wrapping up the entire project, I accidentally found a piece of handicraft similar to the original idea in the Royal Academy of Art.
I have a habit of collecting leaves which have been maintained since I was in primary school. Distinctive plants in England as an island ecoscape really opened up my eyes and stimulated my desire to collect. After years of being folded in books, most of my collection started to show evidence of fragile. A more advanced method of storing is due imminently before the irritatingly humid climate of Southern China makes their condition untouchable.
While considering technical aspects of the case, there is no attempt of turning such labour into an artistic project. Until I unexpectedly opened a book for entertainment. The book is called How to Find and Name Wild Flowers. I bought it in the summer of 2017 when I developed an interest in producing watercolour of plants in the manner of encyclopedically illustration. It was my first time of examining the content of the book. Right on the first page, a scratchy note wrote:
“From Norman to Will, July 15th, 1918.”
Before I judging the decency of putting mouth in front of the date, my hand reached page No.77. I found a rose petal with surprise. It was translucent due to the storage of nearly a century, all the fibres are clearly to see in the fragile background. Not for long, I have found another one between the last two pages. I had no idea whether I can relocate them to a safer environment. As a matter of fact, I realised I cannot even name a safer environment for preserving these two fragile achieve of time.
I sat down and think about the background narrative of the book. It was purchased in a large vintage shop in Lewes and only cost me 3 pounds; therefore, it was highly likely donated. It must be a family or a personal collection. When imaging wilder, I established a kind of convinced that the book was a present given by two-door friends who were just about going to the Great War. Considering sculptures and monuments all around the county, the novel I just created somehow developed more persuasiveness.
Nevertheless, what cannot be denied is that the book contains a narrative which may profoundly influence dos personas a very long while ago, and these petals exactly witnessed a respectful friendship. Since the book was donated and sold, I, perhaps, is now the only one who aware such story. If I burn the book, there could be no one else in this world knows the existence of this story.
Properly, precisely and decently. That is how I work.
(Although it later turned out I am so good at messing things up)
When I found my movement cannot be soft enough to pick up these petals, I cautiously closed the book and put it into a dry box. I even moved my father’s £2500 camera to emphasise my value to the idea. Logically, experiments should be maintained until a valid solution is found before I perform any technique on the objects.
I especially found a died plant. It was a juniper, accidentally killed by being forgotten. It was a gift from my friend. Turning it into some excellent specimen is definitely saving me from being criticised and losing the qualification of receiving presents in the future.
I dug it out, carefully cleaned up mud around its root, shook off loose leaves then lied it aside for preparation. Then I realised I had not found a way to protect its structure yet. Branches and leaves were undoubtedly not required too much attention, being exposed in the air can really use their pleasant odour. However, I did recon the root needed to be specially treated. I would like them to be preserved in an intact form, without changing the pattern it grew. Also, I wanted to find a method which allows displaying of every aspect of the plant, that people can actually walk close, and examining the specimen in every angle they would like.
Firstly I thought of glass. It is an elegant material, transparent, pure and stainless. It can be heavy, very suitable for turning the craft into a decorative paperweight. However, reform glass requires melting the material, and its temperature could quickly burn the structure of the plant. Not to mention turning a corner of the apartment into a glass craft workshop could really make my parents judge whether exactly they will kick me out despite Chinese culture suggests they do not. And considering the amount of work, smell, noise and of course the danger, the deadline is very possible to be set within two weeks.
Compromise. I hate to when it comes to art. Also, it is when I take those leaves into count. Leave specimens are unlikely to be composite like an entire plant, due to the amount of collection they should be considered to be suitable for storage. Compressed, flat, maybe into a coaster or can be hung on the wall, mounted into a frame. Coaster, mat, table mat. That is when I chose to use crystal glue or crystal gel. Its composition usually has a specific resistance to heat, I am sure making some more mat for a family likes serving hot soup can please my parents.
Crystal glue was not very hard to get, local material supply shop has plenty of types in stock. I bought the most expensive one without trying others. It turned out satisfying the first time. In the second part of the project, the glue I used was a totally different one. My careless no-try policy caused an unforeseen development of the work later.
As the instruction suggests, gel A and gel B should be mixed 3:1. While being heated in a water bath, it should be stirred in one direction only. Stirring is for eliminating bubbles and heating is for blending. These procedures could be customised depends on the outcome that the practitioner wants.
It was not hard, except the proportion needs to be precise. The stickiness of the gel may cause remain in measuring glasses. The water temperature is better to be maintained 60C.
After mixing the liquid should be poured into the mould. Hitting the mold on the table would help to eject air bubbles that generated after blending. The crafter needs to be cautious to avoid spilling. Skin contact with the gel may cause burn, and it is tough to wash off.
One of the most challenging factors is the weight of the object in the gel. It may sink to the bottom or float partially out of the surface instead of remaining in the very centre of the composition. Malposed objects can be pushed back to the correct position with toothpick; however, the timing is essential. If the level of solidification exceeds the liquidity of the gel, positioning tool will leave a penetration shape; but if the time for cooling is not enough, the object will shift again. It is very possible to issue new air bubbles during the re-position. Same as the case in which bubbles were not completely eliminated, toothpick or needles can be used to pick out bubbles.
After modelling, the mould should be put in a clean environment. This is due to the accumulation of dust in the air during a 48-hours’ cooling. Anything falls on the sticky surface of the gel may lead to a disastrous result.
I chose a transparent plastic cover of a vase for the mould. It allows me to monitor the shipping process. The craft was placed in room temperature with no direct sunlight. Summer in Southern China can reach 40C during the daytime. So the whole cooling process took more than 48 hours than expected.
A technical issue that cannot be solved is the surface tension of the gel. I tried to pour gel till the edge of the mould, then scratched off the bit exceeds its height. That caused some gel to be left on the corner, and cutting them off after it was cooled is just as tricky as scratching.
The final step is to cover the exposed fibres a protective coat. As planned, I applied the mounting spray to the craft; the following action was due to be gold ink. However, I rearrange the step to photo shooting phase.
I was clearly aware that these experimental pieces were made for self-promoting and gaining fans on social media. Therefore the entire scene needed to adopt a graphic style that popular in the market. While obtaining the bright, charming colour of gold, I considered the remain should be pure and straightforward. The simplest way is always the best way, the most elegant form is the best form. This is my general methodology of life as well.
The scene was set, the camera placed. Media files can be found below.
The final outcome:
Judging by the feedback and statistics, the experiment could be called a minor success.
Processes required more preciseness and carefulness in Part 2, where the project was due to transit for flower petals and leaf collections.
As it was planned, the petal should be wholly sealed into the gel as a permanent specimen. However this idea was quickly overthrew. When I was impressed by how fragile a petal can be, I was observing and cautiously touching one of them on my hand with white gloves. I believe separating the specimen, and the exposed environment indeed can be protective, but that might lose the realness for the petal. As a matter of fact, the narrative behind the work cannot be persuasive; the artist might be accused of making things up. But what if people can still touch the plant fibre? Can I leave a part of the specimen uncovered? I can put an ignorable amount of crystal gel on the top layer for minimum protection. Or maybe leaving a tiny bit in the exposed environment may cause a natural composition? In the reliable comparison between the decomposed part and the sealed part, a powerful scene could be demonstrated: How fragile exactly, a treasured memory can be forgotten by the world?
Therefore the crafting leads to a totally different end.
Surface tension was still unsolved. But the thickness of the craft made it capable of being flattened with heavyweight compressing them.
But it was also due to the thickness, not much space was left for the operating. There was an attempt at eliminating bubbles after they were formed during the cooling process. As I wrote:
“Reheating to about 60C can soften its quality(for the bubbles to float out of the surface). However, the colour of the specimen has changed obviously as well.”
Unless it’s well-preserved colour afforded to be lost, I will never choose to heat the mould again. Air bubbles seemed to be unavoidable in this scenario. Luckily I only took one petal into this job; another one was still preserved between pages, waiting for the perfect version of technical procedure. The actual finished pieces significant behind the planned amount, which should have been:
Leaf found near Imperial War Museum stands for the nostalgia feeling of London.
Leaf found in Westminster stands for the very gate of London. (I usually arrive in London at Victoria Station)
Leaf found in Battle, Hasting. A thorny leaf represents the cold, sharp wind of chilling coastline of Southeast.
Leaf found in Brighton, on the slope to Kimberly Road. A leaf of a plant I saw every time I walk to, or away from the first home in Brighton. Standing for the nostalgia feeling of Brighton.
Leaf found in Saunders Park, Brighton. A place contains a lot of personal memories.
When I left Brighton after graduation, I believe life would drove me to an unknown place with an unknown future. Returning to the life I have used to live could not be possible unless I give all the strength I have got. The capability of going wherever someone please can only be earned by hard-working. By the time the phase started, a place at UAL was offered. It was also an important reason I would like to permanently archive these moments of my previous stage of life and welcoming whatever to come.
The third part of the project is a wild mix of elements I love: the life in the countryside, colour gold, dried fruits, herbs and autumn. It was inspired by foraging a piece of hive. Its remained sticky honey brought odour of harvest of autumn. A following trip to rural area has made a collection of a wide range of plants possible. Several designs have been sketched, and the experiment was initialled without saving technical issues I ran into due to the number of positive feedbacks I have gained.
Hawthorn fruit is a common ingredient of fruit tea as well as a specimen in Northern China. (It is a representative symbol of harvest in Chinese culture as well, for its bright red colour)
Cape gooseberry, also known as Physalis. Its calyx was selected for the craft without its fruit. This is because of the concern that the berry may rot due to its water inside. And the technical barrier obstructed air being entirely removed.
The difference of specific gravity between the crystal gel and the paint, plus the insolubility of these two materials when they are in liquid form. Taking advantages of these two factors flexibly may lead to some interring visual results. Droppers can place golden paint inside the crystal gel by injecting.
The whole plan was to pour enough crystal gel and wait for it until about 60C, then push the specimen inside, then injecting gold ink into holes to extract air; it can also show the trail of movement if the hive relocates after the injection.
What I didn’t foresee is another technical issue. I switch to another brand of crystal gel that I know nothing about. Mixing its gel A and gel B caused a chemical reaction which generates massive heat during the blending step. The amount of heat entirely depends on the amount of gel being mixed.
According to references, I found online, it might be caused by improper storage condition or the expiry.
Even if the object is being cooled sink in water completely, the gel was still swelling quickly. A vast, mountainous lump appeared at its top, expanding and flowing around the table. Its temperature can easily reach above 100C. I failed to measure the precise number due to limitation of types of equipment. But the visual result found it can boil the water bath if there was not too much water. The remaining air inside provides ink condition to be cooked as well. Bubbles pushed ink out during the reaction. Skin contact with the gel causes immediate injury.
The failing reaction was wrapped with ice, that soaked in a large jar of water and buried with sand.
Only two pieces were kept.
The technical issue forced designs more elegant and intricate to be abandoned. I left only sketches left. Lucky the transparency and other qualities did not change due to the uncontrollable self-heating. It can still remains being a correctly sealed block for direct observation to object inside. Also, random facts created an interesting visual effect caused by chemical reactions. Ascending bubbles firstly created channels in the gel, then wild reactions destroyed object’s shape by overwhelming it chaotically. Damaged specimen and remain of gold ink sink to the bottom of the gel, with some of them being push out.
The boiling completely ruined the pattern I drew by injection and relocating. In the second kept piece, pepper seeds were pushed to the edge of the craft. Some ink floated to the surface with air, left holes and roughed the smoothness of its surface. Sediments of the ink were spreader radically as if they were burst out or being exploded at its centre.
The project has to stop due to the schedule shortly after the failure. The departing date approaches and I had to leave for England. The documentation of the project obtains some potential to be applied in future development if possible.
The unforeseen uncontrollability of the pouring process assigned metaphors to the craft by sabotaging the entire design. The heat generated by “swelling into a crystal coffin” ignited specimen and output the extreme heat of burning life.
Specimen of crops can be explained as humans conceited manipulation of converting nature as a source for the human race. The two pieces were placed on dead mint fibres indicates the two directions of the fading of life: burning with heat as the last stand, or humbly become the nutrition of the soil.
The sharp contrast between the bright colour on a transparent background and massively twisted coffins with specimen inside created a manipulated unnatural scene on natural objects by human interference.